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US, State Agencies Review Proposed SD Uranium Mine

CHET BROKAW

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) â¿¿ Federal and state agencies are on the cusp of deciding the fate of a long-debated uranium mine in southwestern South Dakota that would produce about 1 million pounds of uranium oxide annually for the next two decades.

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recommended that a license be granted for Powertech Uranium Corp.'s proposed Dewey-Burdock project near Edgemont on the condition that a separate safety review doesn't reverse such a conclusion. The NRC's target for a final decision is June 2013.

The proposed mining area is about 13 miles northwest of Edgemont, close to the Black Hills National Forest, and would cover about 16.5 square miles. The mine would employ about 250 people during construction and about 150 once operational.

But the federal license isn't the only hurdle Powertech must clear. It also has applied for three state permits â¿¿ one mining and two water rights. Officials of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources expect to hold public hearings on the applications next spring.

It's been more than four years since the mining proposal was first introduced with the goal of becoming operational by 2011. Despite opposition from Native Americans and environmental groups, the state in 2008 agreed to let the uranium producer drill nearly 200 exploratory holes.

Powertech â¿¿ a Canadian company whose U.S. arm is overseeing the Edgemont project â¿¿ plans to use a method known as in-situ recovery, which would pump groundwater fortified with oxygen and carbon dioxide into the underground ore deposits to dissolve the uranium. The water would be pumped back to the surface, where the uranium would be extracted and sold to nuclear power plants.

Lilias Jarding of the Clean Water Alliance, a Black Hills group that opposes the mine, said similar operations have never been done safely because they leave behind too much of the mined mineral once the mining is complete. She expects residents in the area, along with other environmental organizations, to intervene in the permitting cases.

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